Tuesday, May 26, 2009

An Epic Post for an Epic Brunch

What the!? Two breakfast club posts in three days? What has gotten in to us? Hopefully this doesn't tire us out too much and we will post again before the year 2015. Today is a special guest post by my friend and former classmate, Cathy (who can be read at her blog, Ultimate Cookies). This is the final Denver post as I done gradumatated and will be moving back to Minneapolis on Thursday. This may result in more frequent ramblings from us because clearly I am the creative inspiration for this blog. This post is long and further proof that Judy gets everything that she wants. She requested a post and Cathy was happy to oblige, probably because this is part of her grand plan to lure Alex to Denver now that I am leaving. Enjoy.

Brown Palace Hotel and Spa
321 17th St
Denver, CO 80202

When you walk into a fancy dining room with the sounds of a live jazz band wafting through the air and see a chocolate fountain, you know you are in for either a really classy meal or a really tacky meal. Well, if this fancy dining room is at the Brown Palace Hotel and you are there for the Dom Perignon Champagne Brunch, you are in for an exquisite treat. (I must note that the Breakfast Club treasurers were staying at said hotel in celebration of their son's graduation with his 2nd Masters degree and most graciously hosted this meal, leaving some of the club to fend for themselves back home.)

The thought for this gathering was instigated by myself once I heard that Amadeus's legendary parents, Jimmy and Judy, would be in town for graduation along with the wonderful Rachael. I begged him for a true Breakfast Club experience with his family, Jessica and myself, hoping for a breakfast burrito trip to Pete's Kitchen or the like. Negotiations ensued and lo and behold, reservations were made for this graduation brunch of epic proportions. Attending were the treasurers, the graduating son and his wife, his classmate Jessica with her fiancee, Brad, mother Nancy and sister Caitlin, and myself with Chester.

Chester and I arrived late due to street parking difficulties. We would later learn that valet is included with the all-you-can drink champagne and delicacies. First thing we noted as we walked through the dining room was the chocolate fountain at the dessert station. Then there was an ice sculpture at the seafood/cold delicacies station. And the live jazz band with baby grand piano. Fancy pants, indeed. There was also a carving station and a made-to-order omelet station with the requisite chefs in their poofy white hats. Everyone else had arrived and most were enjoying orange juice that looked and tasted very fresh squeezed. The first thing I noted at the table was the silverware that was set up very much a la Pretty Woman; I silently prayed that I wouldn't shoot any crustaceans into anyone else's lap.

The servers were in their brocade shirts and embroidered vests and were very attentive, never removing people's plates without first asking if they were finished. The beverages (coffee, OJ, water and Moet) were never wanting and despite the vast array of flutes, goblets, cups and saucers on the table, I can report that no spillage occurred. You really can dress these folks up and take them out!

The amazing thing about this brunch buffet was that there were so many tasty treats at each of the stations! I venture that this meal was even better than the fancy schmanchy Christmas buffet at the Wynn casino in Las Vegas. Judy noted that at buffets, it is very hard to serve everything at the proper temperature and she felt that they came very close to hitting the mark. The game plan for Amadeus and Brad was to start with the breakfast foods, move on to the lunch foods, then hit dinner and dessert. Jessica and I went straight in for the seafood, sushi and artisan cheeses before thinking about dessert.

As I mentioned, there were so many highlights that I will just go through the high points. The coffee was good and strong with carafes of cream at the table, though this blend was balanced enough to not require doctoring (in my opinion). The server informed us that the one item that could only be found at this brunch and no other menus at the establishment was the lemon-apricot blintzed that were light and airy with a nice fruity balance to the cheese. The prime rib was also highly recommended and almost everyone who had it (everyone except Amadeus) commented that it was succulent and cooked well with just the right amount of texture. Rachael got a "small piece" and intended to only eat half, but found herself finishing the whole piece. If you were audacious enough to ask for a "small piece," you wound up with a slice about as big as Rachel Ray's hands. Nancy thought that the piece she had was just a little tough for her taste. Chester and Caitlin noted that there were no steak knives available for slicing and the butter knives, though adequate, were not the best utensil. The carving station also had a sweet potato hash that was very buttery with a nice texture and pan-seared scallops that were very tender. On my first fly-by the station, I saw the sous chef liberally dolloping butter onto the scallops and I have a feeling that these chefs are from the French cooking school of thought. There was also another hunk of meat that no one opted for instead of the prime rib. To round out the food pyramid, there were sauteed haricots verts that Judy decided to forgo on her plate since there is only so much room in one's stomach and we agreed that green beans can be had anywhere.

At the center salad, seafood, sushi, cheese and breakfast station was where many of the tasty tidbits resided. I was happy to note that though there was perfectly shredded romaine and spinach available with a variety of toppings for those who must have a salad, they didn't go overboard with the real estate afforded to this selection. Let's face it, if you are going for the fancy champagne brunch and have any sense in your noggin', Caesar salad with croutons is not what you will be filling up on. There was an assortment of seafood including smoked salmon, smoked trout, poached salmon and lox with the proper accouterments. Also a big mound of ice with shrimp, crab legs and oysters. The oyster were a hit with those who like raw seafood and I particularly liked that they had loosened the oyster so that they were easily slurped. Caitlin enjoyed that the cocktail sauce had some horseradish kick to it and I gave the station points for the lemon wedges that all New Englanders know are a must have for any seafood. A couple of plates of sushi that included spicy tuna rolls, California rolls, crab rolls and shrimp nigiri and a nice seafood salad rounded out the mix but didn't overreach. The spicy tuna rolls had a sprinkling of wasabi and regular masago on the outside and the rice wasn't too sticky.

There also was a selection of Italian style antipasto including a caprese type salad with balsamic sprinkles buffalo mozzarella, marinated artichokes and pickled onions that looked like olives. The artisan cheeses were plentiful and assorted. The highlight was the cheddar-Stilton that was incredibly creamy and flavorful - perhaps the best blue I've had in a long time. Selections of muffins, pastries, bagels, savory rolls and popovers were available that looked delicious, but the cardinal rule of buffet eating is to be careful with the amount of breads and crackers you fill up on. The pastries and breads were a nice individual size, about a third of the usual monstrosities you find in bakeries and the one apple danish I tried was crispy on the outside and flaky with a good filling to dough ratio. It was overheard that the almond-filled croissants were "to die for."

Next came the breakfast type foods. I am taking you through the way the stations were presented rather than the way meals are usually eaten. The cheese blintzes were little pillows of sunshine. There was a hot tray of sausage links and unusually large bacon slices that must have come from hogs the size of cows. The warming trays at this place are the silver round domed types that are easy to open and close and that holds in the steam to keep things from getting overly dried out in this desert climate. There was a dome of hash browns, I believe, but I don't think anyone tried them. Like many of the TCBC members, I prefer my hash browns crispy and there is no way that a warming dome will leave any semblance of a crunch in the potatoes (Amadeus note: I had some and they were actually quite good and crispy, much to my surprise). A silver dome of dollar pancakes and waffles were also on the table with fruit, whipped cream, butter, sour cream, almonds etc for garnish. These also get a little soft but the staff seemed to be doing an excellent job rotating in fresh pans. The made-to-order omelets looked very fluffy and, of course, Egg Beaters or egg whites were available for the health conscious. Although I am not typically an eggs Benedict fan, I liked the fact that these were made to order in the kitchen. Gross tubs of greasy Hollandaise under heat lamps is one of the most disgusting prospects of breakfast buffets. None of us thought to order the Benedict since there were so many other things to try.

Finally, the dessert station which was the station the furthest from our table. (The long walk counts as exercise, right?) Although you might be lured by the siren song of the chocolate fountain with your choice of strawberries, 'Nilla wafers, Oreos and marshmallows for dipping, you will soon discover that there are many more treasures to be found. A made to order bananas foster station using Myers rum and vanilla bean ice cream was popular with those who like bananas and fire. There was an assortment of chocolate tortes and cheesecakes as well as many individually sized tartlettes, chocolate confections, petit fours, creme brulees, mousses and trifles. Hits included the dark chocolate pots de creme that was rich and flavorful without being overly sweet and a milk chocolate mousse that was light and fluffy. For myself, Amadeus, and I believe Jimmy and Judy, the individual key lime tartlette was a true highlight - made of real citrusy lime curd with a nice acidic bite accented with a wedge of lime and some whipped cream on top. There was also a small container of hot chocolate that you could pour a shot from, but Nancy felt that it was just a little too sweet and not as satisfying as the other treats. At this point in the meal, it was very important to share and learn from other's mistakes.

Overall, I think that everyone truly enjoyed themselves and ate too much. We contemplated the feasibility of taking a nap in Jimmy and Judy's room before returning or going for a lap around the block, but instead had a little more champagne and powered through. What truly made this champagne brunch sublime was the fact that everything was executed well and there was a plethora of gems for any palate to enjoy (unless you are looking for the perfect hash browns). If Jimmy, Judy, Rachael and Amadeus wanted to find the best breakfast brunch in Denver, I think that they might have found it today. A great way to end 2 years of graduate school for Amadeus, Jessica and myself with delicious food, good conversation and fantastic family and friends.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Picture Me Shouting This From the Rooftops of the World

Stabby's Cafe
4159 Cedar Ave S

Sometimes you want truffle oil and garlic infused egg whites and elegant table cloths and waiters who stand at your elbows until they can simultaneously set down your plates and immediately whip out matching tall pepper grinders for your leafy greens. Sometimes you want to be able to say, "Oh, waiter, could I please have a black napkin? I don't want white lint on my fancy pants." Sometimes you want wild mushrooms sauteed just so and then folded carefully inside of exquisitely prepared omelets flavored with local specialty cheeses.

Of course, you mostly feel this way on mornings when the Breakfast Club treasurers are present to take care of your bill. On mornings like this one, when a depleted club meets in the mid morning after a late Friday night, what we want is far more utilitarian. What we want is to take care of the pangs of hunger with a simple plate of good, solid food, served without hoopla in a clean and simple environment. Enter Stabby's, the new restaurant on 42nd and Cedar.

Surprisingly, Perley and Jill agreed to my suggestion to eat there, even though they both thought I called it "Scabby's" on the phone. This is trust, people. Don't underestimate its power.

Anyway, Stabby's is a brand new restaurant, which is apparently attempting to attain fame by serving Flint-style chili dogs at lunch time, but more to the point, they also serve breakfast from a menu littered with puns and exclamation points. I can't really tell you what's on the menu, because, as I often do, especially when I'm hungry, I stopped reading after I saw what I wanted: CBH - corned beef hash.

Now, when you go to a fancy place, they corn the beef themselves, and serve it to you in chunks that are shaped like meat, so you can appreciate their efforts and not confuse it with the stuff in the can. Problem is, I grew up on corned beef hash in a can, and a big part of me believes that everything in corned beef hash should be cut into little cubes and served crispy with eggs on top. This is the kind of corned beef has you get from Stabby, and it was exactly what I wanted. It was perfectly crisped, doled out into the exact size I needed (which isn't huge), and served with two lovely over-easy eggs.

Sarah got banana buttermilk pancakes, and she, too, enjoyed her meal. Apparently there are multiple flavors of cakes at Stabby's. I didn't get that far in the menu. I don't usually eat pancakes at restaurants, but for those who do, Sarah endorses the way the place from Flint does its cakes.

Perley valiantly fought his urge to get the steak and eggs (too predictable), and instead ordered biscuits and gravy, which he was happy to get because he knew the gravy would be flavored with real sausage and not with mushrooms. He's been living the Uptown lifestyle too long.

Jill got the standard breakfast with spicy hashbrowns. Not to go on and on about the potatoes, but the one bite she shared with me crunched loudly enough that I could hear it in my head. The cajun spices in the browns also added to my enjoyment. I predict with confidence that I will be eating Stabby's hashbrowns again someday. The only thing we were served this morning that didn't get entirely consumed at our table was Jill's blueberry biscuit, which she said was too dry.

It was perhaps the lowered expectations of a club without its fancier members, but we left with comfortable bellies and happy tastebuds. It's not a fancy place, but it does know how to cook delicious diner food, and the size of its bill was definitely within our grasp, even after a night of cocktails. We're left with the question, is it easier to get an A if you forget about trying to impress with fancy homemade ketchup and instead just crisp up some hash and serve it with a bottle of the store-bought stuff without all that fuss?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Really? That's What You Want to Call It?

Has anyone been to this Stabby's? 'Cause every time I drive by I do a double take trying to think of a worse name for a cafe. Still, don't worry. We'll be eating there sometime soon, and we'll get to the bottom of this naming thing. And if it's any good, we'll shout "Stabby's" from the rooftops of the world (no matter how ridiculous that sounds).

Besides, you gotta give them a nod for daring to open a new restaurant in this economy - and another nod for opening on the cursed corner of 42nd and Cedar, former home of the dearly departed Boathouse and also Isabel's (may she rest in peace).

Sorry about the long silence. I'm coaching the math every Saturday, so there hasn't been a breakfast club in a long while. This weekend, Amadeus graduates from his school in Denver. The full club will be reunited in June, at which point we'll entertain you with tales of breakfasts around town.

Until then, enjoy the heat. Or the AC if that's your deal.